Surely, the city-states. The very concept of an agricultural paradise limited by the water debit.
Me, my favorite setting element are the Elemental Priests. One of the main element why I never was appealed by the 4th edition.
My favorite setting in Dark Sun is the general dark ambiance :
In oppsoition with classical setting, there is no hope, the world is dying, all cities are rule by despotic rulers …
There is no gods to save the day.
Where in classical world we dream to be an hero, a white knight, the people who save the day …;
In Athas all our strength is use only to stay alive. Small or gig, everything want you dead or eat you …
It’s up to you to outsmart them and build your life and if your lucky bring a small light call hope.
- reaching epic is expected
- post-apocalyptic fantasy
The whole oppressive and hopeless setting, where all have to fight to survive. An untraditional fantasy setting that flips it all around, ruled by mighty sorcerer-kings who the players actually have a chance of becoming.
A place where everything is tested as a survival tool.
Basically the dystopic feeling of the original box.
I do not however particularly like the how-it-came-to-pass much however. I would have preferred if that stayed as unknown, especially we are all descendants of halflings.
That and the powers-that-be killing off all the dragon-kings from the getgo. Why write them up only to kill them the first chance writers get in the fiction.
I haven’t read City-State of Tyr yet so I don’t know whether I even will bring that change around in my third incarnation of the settings.
My favorite aspect is the metamorphosis into an advanced being. I don’t know if that’s done in any other universe. It is so interesting and allows PCs to ascend to terrific power and contend with some serious enemies on Athas or the planes! While preparation becomes more challenging, I enjoy higher levels more given the depth of strategy that can be employed.
For me, defiling and the dragon metamorphosis. I love defiler, I love the idea of a power mad wizard psionocist growing so powerful it can transform into another being entirely.
How hard of a world it is. Little metal and paper screws all classes a little.
i love worlds with a lower power curve. I feel Dark Sun has that more so then a Forgotten Realms. I’m not a fan of high flying superheroes.
I love how the Sorcerer Kings have their cities in check making things really hard on a player.
The way the various races and creatures had adapted. 7’ tall elves, hairless dwarves, cannibalistic hobbits, psychic felines, and numerous examples of carnivorous plants makes me happy inside
The landscape itself. I’d be hard pressed to find a setting where the landscape is more relevant. My players used to say that the most dangerous monster was the desert, but Athas is also a place of beauty, as The Wanderer himself said.
I also appreciate that the wizards are curbed. In a typical D&D world there is too much magic for my liking. However, in Dark Sun wizards have to be very careful and things get more interesting.
The sorcerer kings and their templar have to be one of my favorite setting elements of Dark Sun. Together they create a truly oppressive element that makes you feel like you’re in a primeval world languishing under the rule of the strong. The omnipresence of slavery and raiders is a big part of that element to me as well and is essential for getting the dark sun vibe that is so immersive.
Defilers and the dragon metamorphosis are something I’ve not really seen done in any other fantasy setting and I love both of them. Defilers and preservers imho highlight another key essential theme of Dark Sun, which is that being evil is much easier and far more beneficial in this setting than most others. Defiling grants you far more power and better guarantees your survival against the many horrors of Athas, but you’re actively making the world a worse place in doing so. Preserving isn’t the most selfless and virtuous act out there, but you are actively hindering yourself for the good of the world. This approach to magic and the lack of deities with alignments or paladins goes a long way towards making Dark Sun morality very compelling.
A hidden gem I feel is easily overlooked is undead in Athas. The sheer diversity of abilities and the fact you have no idea what a particular undead might be capable of makes them way scarier imo. Add in the fact that clerics are an even rarer luxury in Dark Sun than normal DnD and suddenly undead are the worst thing ever. Bonus points for the fact most every undead is sentient and quite a few aren’t evil/antagonistic.
Star-Sage got it right!
I would only tone down metamorphosis to be replaced by the sooooo flavorful Elemental Clerics of the 2e and 3.5e.
I would add the Merchant House. They can be extraordinary adventures plots.
1: When I have to describe the setting, I get to use the term “Medieval Mad Max”. For its time it was a totally unique feel, and still is, and once you embrace it the setting is just amazing. You’re not questing for gold or riches, and you’re not in a heavily populated setting full of adventurers that still has hundreds of unexplored dungeons just hanging around 2 days travel from major cities… You’re in a wasteland more often than not, and you’re “questing” to make it to the other side alive.
2: “Dragon” really means something on Athas, while in other settings the penultimate “Monster” just doesn’t seem to mean much anymore. It was also the first, and still in many ways only, setting that readily embraced the idea of “epic” leveling being out there from the start, as the Sorcerer-Kings would have at least been gestalt characters had they been PCs.
3: No Jim-Bob’s Wizard Emporium selling crazy reagents in every minor town. Magic means something, and has a great mechanic in defiling to set it apart.
4: From a DM’s perspective, using the older AD&D-3.5 grimdark vibe and hostile setting, it was a great way to teach newer players about the value of things like Endure Elements, and how to account for travel, navigation, provisioning, encumbrance, etc. A lot of newer players just don’t seem to appreciate that those features are in games to provide a layer of challenge and give Rangers/Rogues/etc a chance to make liberal use of their skills. The ambient setting itself is so hostile it can be boot camp to teach players to pay attention to little rules instead of whining and arguing about how “lame” having to eat, drink, and account for carrying capacity can be.
Thought I’d add a few more thoughts.
- Psionics rules, magic drools.
- Post apocalyptic psionics for the win.
- Did survival and crafting before minecraft did… psionically!